The Pros and Cons of Traveling to Playa del Carmen

Decide whether or not traveling to Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a good idea with the help of these pros and cons. 

(In-)Accurate Preconceptions of Playa del Carmen

We didn't have high hopes for Playa del Carmen before going.

In our minds, it was an over-developed beach town overflowing with neon-tank-top-wearing, sun-burned Americans buzzing on cheap Mexican booze. An extension of Cancun, in other words.

We weren't wrong…

…but we weren't totally right either.

Playa del Carmen had all the negative aspects we suspected, but it also had some redeeming features that surprised us. Traveling to Playa del Carmen ended up being a good choice for us (for a couple days, at least).

Is Playa del Carmen a good choice for you too?

That depends. These pros and cons of traveling to Playa del Carmen will help you decide.

The Pros and Cons of Traveling to Playa del Carmen

 Pro: Playa del Carmen is Close to Cancun's International Airport

Playa del Carmen is only about a fifty-five-minute bus ride from Cancun's international airport. That's only about twenty-five minutes farther than Cancun's own hotel zone.

✗ Con: Finding the Cancun to Playa del Carmen Bus Can Be a Nightmare

When we arrived at Cancun's airport at around 9 p.m. everyone lied to us, saying there were no more buses until the next morning.

Taxi and minivan drivers purposefully misled us and a security guard blocked us from going the right way. One airport employee even walkie-talkied over to his friend to “check” if the buses were still running and confirmed they weren't. They were all lying to try to get us to hire a private car. We ended up finding the bus, but it took one-and-a-half extremely frustrating hours.

Lesson: Research how you’re going to get to Playa del Carmen before your flight because you can’t trust anyone at the airport.

 Pro: Playa del Carmen's Beach is Always Close and  Easily Accessible

Playa del Carmen stretches along the beach and there plenty of public access points. Even when you’re deep in “local” Playa del Carmen you’ll never be more than fifteen minutes walk from the beach

You can't say the same about Tulum, for example. There, most beach access is blocked by resorts and it would take an hour to walk from the town to the beach.

✗ Con: The Beach Ain’t Great

Our friend Karla, who lives in Playa del Carmen, told us that Playa del Carmen's beaches were paradise ten years ago. But now, she says, the water’s so polluted by untreated runoff from the hotels that she and her friends won’t even swim in it.

Despite Karla's warnings, we swam in the water. We didn't get sick or emerge with toilet paper in our hair, but we weren't frolicking with dolphins, starfish, and stingrays either. The water's murky and the beaches are small and crowded, even in offseason months like May, when we went.

Restaurant on Playa del Carmen beach.
Playa del Carmen's beaches are narrow and crowded with either tables (as shown here), beach chairs, or seaweed.

 Pro: Playa del Carmen Is Fun for Everyone

Playa del Carmen is not a debaucherous adult playground like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street. But it’s not designed for kids like Disney World either. It's got a nice balance of both that allowed everyone we saw—college-aged partiers, Mexican families with young kids, middle-aged couples, you name it—to have a good time.

And, even in the offseason, it's pleasantly buzzing with activity. This makes it for good people watching or socializing, whichever you prefer.

✗ Con: There is Zero Cultural Appeal

Put it this way: The featured items at Playa del Carmen's souvenir shops were “Mayan” masks with NFL football team logos on them.

All semblance of historical Mayan and modern Mexican culture has been painted over with a garish American brush. It's the Mexico of stereotypes, full of tequila, nachos, Corona merchandise, and Señor Frogs.

Even if you venture further inland into the local part of town it's one strip mall after another.

 Pro (Mostly): English Is Widely Spoken

If you want to learn Spanish, Playa del Carmen's not the place to go to. But if you want to relax without the hassle of language barriers, it's ideal. Just about everyone speaks English, and often very well.

Even the greeter at Walmart spoke fluent English.

Pots of food at Doña Paula's restaurant in Playa del Carmen
One of the rare spots where the servers didn't seem to speak english was Doña Paula's restaurant. But the food's worth trying some mangled Spanish for.

✗ Con: Everyone's Trying to Sell You Stuff



“Happy Hour?”


“Money exchange?”

The downside of the fact that everyone in Playa del Carmen speaks English is they can (and will) use it to try to extract money from you.

Every corner in Playa del Carmen has hustlers trying to sell you something you don't want. I got so annoyed by the constant pestering that I considered recording myself saying “No, Gracias” on my phone and playing it on loop as I walked along the street.

 Pro: Everything's in One Place

Unlike Tulum, where all the high-end restaurants and hotels are far from the lower-budget town, everything's within walking distance in Playa del Carmen.

Speaking of which…

 Pro: It's Walkable

A car may be handy for exploring other parts of the Yucatan, but you don't need one to get around town. You don't even need a bike or to take taxis. Playa del Carmen is compact, its main strip, La Quinta, is pedestrian-only, and the other streets have minimal traffic. This makes it a pleasant town to walk around.

Beetle on Playa del Carmen's beach.
If you have a sweet convertible beetle, it might make sense to drive around Playa del Carmen to show off. Otherwise, you can walk everywhere.

✗ Con: There Are No Good Exercise Options

If you're traveling to Playa del Carmen on holiday, exercise might be the last thing on your priority list and this won't matter to you.

But this will matter if you like to exercise even when on holiday—and especially if you're like us and enjoy getting outside and using sometimes unconventional tactics to stay fit.

We had a hard time finding opportunities to put these tactics to work in Playa del Carmen. It was impossible to work out on Playa del Carmen's cramped beach without kicking sand onto a poor sunbather's face, and the only gyms we saw were of the soulless air-conditioned treadmill and machine variety.

 Pro: There's a Good Selection of Mexican Restaurants

Though most of the restaurants along the main strip of La Quinta were overpriced and over-touristy, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Playa del Carmen had plenty of authentic, good-value places nearby too.

Here are the ones we ate at:


  • Nativo – They serve enormous (1 liter) and excellent smoothies for only 40 pesos.
  • Calmar de las 10 – We stumbled on this place by chance and stumbled out happy campers. It's a can't miss if they’re still running their ceviche promotion of 1 kg for 110 pesos.
  • Doña Paula’s – This tip from Sarah Somewhere was a good one. Though it’s only a couple blocks from La Quinta's tourism vortex, Doña Paula doesn’t seem to care about catering to or attracting tourists. There’s no sign out front and it’s not on TripAdvisor. Doña Paula is content to stick to making delicious traditional food for the same low prices as always.
Close up of ceviche
Our enormous 1 kg / 2.2 lb ceviche from Calmar de la 10 was only 100 pesos (5.50 USD).

Bueno, Pero no Fantastico:

  • Madrez Cafe – It’s the type of place that we’d recommend if it were located back home in Vancouver at the same prices. The food's and service is good, but for Mexico is a bit too expensive for what it is.
  • El Fogon – El Madrez’s owner, our hotel manager, and a couple other local insiders all recommended El Fogon. So does everyone else apparently; on TripAdvisor and Google is has almost three times as many reviews as any other Playa del Carmen restaurant. We didn't get what all the fuss was about. The prices were ok compared to elsewhere in Playa, but even compared to Tulum town they were high, and nothing we ate was memorable.
  • El Ñero – If you’re interested in unusual meats like tongue and tripe, and aren't going elsewhere in Mexico it’s a decent choice. But if you’re going to stick with chorizo or pastor tacos, El Fogon’s were tastier and a better bang for your buck.
Taco and arrachera platter from El Fogon restaurant in Playa del Carmen
My arrachera especial from El Fogon was ok but not especial. It wasn't worth all the hype, nor the 170 pesos (9 USD).

 Pro: There's a Great Place to Stay

The place we stayed at, The Hotel Colorado, was exactly what we wanted. It was well-located but peacefully quiet, the German guy and his daughter who managed it were helpful and friendly, the room was spacious and had AC, the beds were comfortable enough, and they provided free drinking water. For the price we negotiated—only 400 pesos (about 20 USD) a night—it was a great deal.

If we were to visit Playa del Carmen again we'd stay there again without a second thought.

Check out Hotel Colorado's prices and availability (it sells out fast in busy seasons) on  or Both sites offer free cancellations and don't require credit cards to reserve.

Note that if you book through those links you'll reward us with a small commission of about 3% (at no extra cost to yourself).

The courtyard of Hotel Colorado, and ideal spot for people backpacking in Playa del Carmen and looking for a quiet, comfortable hotel.
Now you see why it's called Hotel Colorado ("Colorful"). It's quiet (aside from the loud colors), the staff is great, the location's ideal, and the price is right. We'd stay there again for sure.

The Final Verdict on Traveling to Playa del Carmen

For us, traveling to Playa del Carmen was perfect… at least for the one day we were there. Two would've been too many. We enjoyed it more than we thought we would, but it’s definitely not an “Unconventional Route” type of spot.

Depending on what type of trip you’re looking for, your conclusions may differ. Whatever the case may be, hopefully, these pros and cons of traveling to Playa del Carmen will help you make the right choice.

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25 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of Traveling to Playa del Carmen”

  1. We purchased a second home in Playa Del Carmen and love it! Its affordable, laid back and you can walk to everything! Very HAPPY!

    • Glad to hear it Wade! Have you got any local restaurant or activity recommendations to share with others reading this who're considering visiting Playa del Carmen?

    • Thanks Wade. I'm headed there in Feb. for an exploratory trip to see if it will be right for me. I hope the ocean is better than these travel writers say. That will be an important factor.

  2. Just spent 9 days in Playa del Carmen and we're going back in Nov 2020 to enjoy more activities. We didn't have much problem with beggars or sales people. Sitting on 5th Avenue and watching the street performers. Prices for food were more reasonable a block or two off of 5th Ave. Shopping was fun including the Large shopping center. $56. per night for a larger studio condo with security and infinity pool. (Airbnb) a block from Walmart. Need to spend more than 1 night to enjoy fun activities (Jazz Festival) and to feel the real vibe.

    • Hey Carol. I'm happy to hear you've enjoyed Playa del Carmen so much you plan to return!

      Have you spent any time in other, lesser-known Mexican beach towns? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on how they compare.

      And good point on festivals. Destinations are always more fun when there's a special event going on. That's actually one of our top travel tips for having a better trip.

      Thanks again! All the best.

  3. Heading to Mexico and wanted to spend some nights in Playa del Carmen. Any advice on other places not too far from CUN airport that offer a more authentic Mexican experience but still safe?

    • One place – if you want to visit Chichen Itza, I would highly recommend getting a hotel at Chichen Itza. We stayed two nights there and just woke up and walked over to the ruins. The hotel was beautiful, clean, and was surrounded by jungle with some good eating and swimming nearby as well (a cenote and swimming pools). There are a few different options for different tastes (we stayed at the Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows).

  4. We've been invited to spend a couple of weeks in Playa with some long lost relatives who snowbird there every year. They are more the pub/club/drinker types. We are the adventurers – hiking, site seeing, historical places, haunted places etc. Any suggestions? What is the best way to go and see the sites? book tours or is everyone a con artist? lol

    • Hey Andi. You sound like our type of people! Aside from what we wrote about Tulum, we don't have a lot to recommend to you, sorry. Do a day trip to Valladolid for sure for a more traditional Mexican town. Also look into renting bikes to peddle between cenotes. With a couple weeks, I'd rent a car and do some further exploring, too. Sorry we couldn't be of more use. Please let us know what you guys discover.

      • Thank you for the information. I am thinking of purchasing a townhouse in Playa del Carmen to live. Are the beaches really crowded? I am single and wondering if it would be a good fit. Thank you

        • Hi Laura. That's exciting! For such a big investment, I suggest you go see for yourself. The cost of going down and doing first-hand research is small compared to the loss of making a bad choice or gain from making a good one.

  5. Unethical employee! Decided to pay my bill through PayPal and employee was referred to me by hotel Management. Now she refuses to give management the funds for my hotel without a percentage given to het! Apparently Management is aware of her dealings! Do not send payments through PayPal to a Karen Carter! Management is working this situation and is not kicking me out!, thank goodness! Still their problem!

  6. Thank you for the note about the murky water. That saved me a lot of money. That would be the point of going to a beach on the Caribbean, for me — clear water. The bacteria warnings on beaches are no joke. An in-law almost died from a bacteria infection from contaminated water days after a trip to Hawaii. Shut down his organs. He ignored the warning signs. Thanks for the well-written article!

    • Hi Scot. I wrote this a couple of years ago, so maybe the water situation's a bit better now. Maybe look up the latest measurements before completely crossing Playa off?

    • The water is very clear. We moved here September 20, 2022 and it has been clear everyday we have been here. Earlier in May some areas had a lot of seaweed.

  7. Hey Chris. I was a PDC skeptic while in Tulum and Oaxaca for months, then gave it a try. While it's certainly doesn't have the low cost or cultural authenticity of Oaxaca nor the dreamy beaches of Tulum, it's got so many more things those two don't have respectively. PDC's beaches are accessible to affordable lodging, has a much better range of food types, and btw, and has an incredible and free sports facility on calle 34 and Av. 10th (no need to jog on the beach). Oaxaca is a lovely city but it's at high altitude and super arid. Also, while the food is unique and great, the variety of food you can eat is very limited. Also, it has no Caribbean beach and running is difficult in town. You mentioned most of the downsides to Tulum, expensive, beaches inaccessible, etc. If you want to hang with a certain. crowded then that's your scene, but for the non-IG influencer, PDC works fine for me. Just my two cents

    • Hey Ed. I appreciate the two cents. Some other friends of mine have had similar things to say and I could see how for a longer-term stay PDC could be more comfortable for a lot of people, and one of the better places to be in Mexico.

  8. Sewage smell. Not coming back.
    This is preview of how all reefs will look like if we don't take care of the environment. Quinta Roo residents have been dumping too much sewage for too long. Corals are dead. Few sand-colored fishes swim over dead sand-colored corals.
    The sea smells strongly with sewage. Third world.
    We are not coming back.


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